The Norman/Friedman Principle: Equal Rights to Information and Technology Access

Article excerpt

I. INTRODUCTION. 48

II. THE DIGITAL DIVIDE AND THE INFORMATION AGE. 50

A. Disability: The Basic Legal Framework. 50

B. Being Disabled In a Functional World. 51

C. Disabilities in an Inaccessible Age. 53

D. The Hastening Pace of Technological Advancements. 55

1. A Historical Overview. 55

2. Disabled Access to Information. 57

III. THE NORMAN/FRIEDMAN PRINCIPLE. 60

A. Federal Law and the Norman/Friedman Principle. 60

B. Current Developments, Ethical Considerations, and Constitutional Considerations. 64

1. An Ethical Note. 64

2. The Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities. 65

3. Constitutional Considerations. 68

IV. RECOMMENDATIONS ON IMPLEMENTING THE Norman/Friedman Principle 74

A. The Twenty-First Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act of 2010 74

B. Maryland Bills Providing for Certain Protections Regarding Information and Technology 78

C. Transportation Access Issues 80

1. Developing the Self-Driving A utomobile 81

2. Silent Cars and Their Remedy 83

D. Technology Access Cases 86

1. Arizona v. Harkins 86

2. NAD v. Netflix 90

3. Feldman v. Pro Football 93

E. Assistive Technology Costs and Repair 94

J. Addressing the Price Gap: Ensuring Assistive Technologies are not Lemons 95

2. Maryland's Need for Affirmative Action 98

V. Conclusion 99

It was only just words, words,-they meant nothing in the world to him, I might just as well have whistled. Words realize nothing, vivify nothing to you, unless you have suffered in your own person the thing which the words try to describe.

~Mark Twain1

I. Introduction

Developments in science and technology have a direct impact on the habits, practices, and ultimately, the very substance and nature of societal institutions. As such, innovations in science and technology, when accessible to all, may have the effect of serving as an equalizer of the opportunities of people with disabilities for living, learning, and earning. For example, an accessible Internet-a "superhighway" for information, designed for the needs of people with disabilities-can provide the disabled, the world's largest minority population, 2 with enhanced opportunities for inclusion and integration. Many of the features of the global, information-based economy have the potential to level the playing field between people with disabilities and the temporarily able-bodied.3 This result, however, may not be positively realized as long as customs, policies, and laws fail to facilitate and promote accessibility for the disabled.4

In the Information Age, a society that does not commit itself to a proactive effort respecting information and digital access propagates injustice, denigrating affirmative civil rights already on the books. In this, the era of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), there is a range of legal obligations respecting information access.5 The public, however, may be uneducated about, or may simply in some circumstances disregard, issues related to accessibility. While there is an array of domestic protections for persons with disabilities that impose affirmative obligations (for example, providing auxiliary aides or services at the office of a medical provider), such provisions require proactive implementation to achieve their intended purposes. A law on the books without more is insufficient. Thus, the question is how to fortify or expand existing protections, so as to ensure that the affirmative rights drafted by legislators are more than just words.

With a goal of contributing to the dialogue about the problem of accessibility, the Article will present the Norman/Friedman Principle and argue that it should inform and influence the creation and implementation of relevant laws. The Norman/Friedman Principle might be stated as follows: imbuing science and technology with principles of universal design and accessibility will increasingly allow individuals with disabilities to benefit society through greater opportunities for socioeconomic commerce. …